Meridian city council approves contract for 22nd Avenue improvement project

Dave Bohrer / The Meridian Star

The city of Meridian is taking its next step in improving the 22nd Avenue gateway to the city. Overgrown trees and brush and uneven pavement on the road and sidewalks are among the problems that would be addressed.

A project to enhance a section of Meridian’s 22nd Avenue moved forward Tuesday, as the city council voted to approve a preliminary contract with the engineering firm, Neel-Schaffer, Inc.

Keith O’Keefe, the firm's senior vice president, said the company will design the project, which may include enhancements like new sidewalks and paving, landscaping and lighting. 

The less than mile-long stretch of 22nd Avenue, also known as Sela Ward Parkway, leads highway traffic into downtown Meridian.

Several empty buildings line the worn out road.

“What we’re trying to do is enhance Sela Ward Parkway as a gateway into Meridian,” O’Keefe said. “Right now, we have a blank canvas to work with and that’s a great thing because we want this to be Meridian’s project.”

The project would focus on the section from the interchange near the old Village Fair Mall to Front Street, according to Meridian Public Works Director Hugh Smith. 

Last month, the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors discussed blocking access to the mall, which has been closed for decades. District 1 Supervisor Jonathan Wells said he has seen people walking around the property and it appears some have been staying in a loading dock.

Smith said the project will be funded by a Transportation Alternatives Program grant of approximately $1.1 million from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, as well as $565,000 appropriated by the state legislature.

The city hopes to have the work completed by the end of 2020 or early 2021, according to Mayor Percy Bland.

He said city leaders visited Laurel, Hattiesburg, and Tuscaloosa to learn more from their streetscape plans.

“We want that ‘Wow’ effect,” he said.

Allison Slayton, who owns The Sewing and Vacuum Center on 22nd Avenue, said the road needs beautification, but she would not want to give up a car lane for something like a bike lane. 

“We need to maintain our four lanes of traffic,” she said. 

Chuck Sanders, owner of Sanders Gas Co., also had concerns about traffic. 

“It would be very foolish to sacrifice utility,” he said. 

Ward 5 councilman Weston Lindemann said the council needs to be able to consult the master plan during the process.

“We haven’t seen more than a PowerPoint presentation,” he said.

LPK Architects was contracted by the city for its master plan in December 2016. The council authorized a $93,500 agreement with the firm then.

The council voted 4-1 Tuesday to request information from LPK, including assessments, plans, and diagrams, according to Lindemann. 

Bob Luke, the managing principal of LPK Architects, said the latest draft of the master plan was at city hall.

“We have provided an excellent master plan that we will be glad to stack up against anyone, especially for the price they contracted for,” Luke said. “There are more payments that are due, but I’m sure they will make their payments. If there are any contractual issues to be resolved, I’m sure that they will be.”

The firm turned in a bill a few weeks ago for the remaining balance for the master plan and a traffic study related to it, he said.  

Bland said he plans to follow up with Luke this week.

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